Recently, Crazy Love author, Francis Chan, former pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, gave a TED talk-esque sermon to a gathering of Facebook employees. During that talk, he shared his soul as to why he left his “megachurch” seven years ago. In short, he basically threw the fine folks of Cornerstone under the proverbial bus. Everyone there, he lamented, were a bunch of losers who never exercised their spiritual gifts and instead came to watch him perform. Francis effectively models for us the worst shepherding skills a pastor can possibly have.
A Little Background
Francis Chan, believe it or not, is a Master’s Seminary graduate. That’s right, he attended both the Master’s University (formerly The Master’s College) and the Master’s Seminary where pastor-teacher John MacArthur is president. In fact, he was a year or so a head of me in his classes when I began.
He started Cornerstone Community Church in the living room of his house in the early 90s with just a handful of people. Within a short time, the study grew exponentially, and they began meeting in a building. By the early 2000s, Cornerstone had grown to a few thousand members.
Francis is a gifted speaker. He also has a winsome enough personality that he was able to pull together many fine men to help lead his church. I happen to know a few of them from TMS. My wife is from Simi Valley, which is just 20 minutes or so away from where we currently live. Several of her friends from college attended Cornerstone and absolutely loved it. They loved the teaching, the fellowship, and the many opportunities they had for serving.
I personally wasn’t a fan of Francis. He was a nice enough guy and I certainly appreciated his passion. His attempted exposition of the Scriptures, however, was a bit too shallow for me. It was more like topical preaching, rather than expositional. For instance, he would race through an entire chapter of a book in one message, sometimes two, depending upon what he was addressing.
Additionally, the church atmosphere was too causal. I spoke with one guy who visited there who likened the worship service to attending a college retreat every Sunday. There was lots of CCM for worship, and people showing up for church dressed like they just rolled out of bed.
Francis’s Magical Faith Journey
In April, 2010, Francis invoked charismatic whimsy, announcing to the dismay of pretty much everyone at Cornerstone that he was stepping down as pastor. Clothed in a pair of faded jeans and a tee shirt, he shakily explained how “God was leading him” in a new direction. He was taking his family on a spiritual walk about to find God’s will for his life. See Justin Taylor’s article about it HERE.
Francis wasn’t sure where his journey was taking him. He planned some trips to a few large U.S. cities to “pray and walk” them to find God’s direction. He was then travelling to the third world to hang out for two or three months.
Many popular evangelical commentators weepily applauded his decision, wishing they had his boldness to drastically step out on faith like he did. More sensible believers, on the other hand, thought he was impulsively flying by the seat of his pants. I thought to myself at the time, “Where in the Bible does God call people to aimlessly wander around in order to find His will?” He was justifying his rash decision to abandon his church by using spiritual lingo. If a year into his journey he crashes and burns, God is to blame because He was the one who called him.
Moreover, Francis expressed a heart for an urban, inner-city environment. I wondered why Christians have such a romantic fixation with the third-world and the inner-city. For some reason, they never sense God calling them to rural Kentucky or Ohio. Furthermore, Francis lived just 40 minutes from downtown LA. If he genuinely had a heart for city work, he should look out his backdoor.
My friend, Dan Phillips, wrote a brilliant, must read blog post warning against a leader exercising such irresponsible, foolish decision making. A pastor claiming God is calling him to wander the earth to find God’s will is ultimately harming the people he is shepherding. He is merely modeling for them conduct that can potentially leads a person to disaster. The comments under that post are also worth the read as well.
The Facebook Gathering
Fast-forward to present day 2017. Thankfully, God conveniently led Francis back to his hometown of San Francisco. There, he now has access to the computer-tech industry and that affords him speaking gigs with folks at Facebook. During his recent talk, he opened up more as to why he left his church seven years ago.
But Chan felt the megachurch he founded was not as God intended it to be.
“I got frustrated at a point, just biblically,” Chan said during a talk in Facebook headquarters in California last Thursday. “I’m going wait a second. According to the Bible, every single one of these people has a supernatural gift that’s meant to be used for the body. And I’m like 5,000 people show up every week to hear my gift, see my gift. That’s a lot of waste. Then I started thinking how much does it cost to run this thing? Millions of dollars!”
“So I’m wasting the human resource of these people that according to Scripture have a miraculous gift that they could contribute to the body but they’re just sitting there quietly. … [T]hey just sit there and listen to me.”
Moreover, he felt the church wasn’t following God’s command to love one another — attendees would simply greet each other for 30 seconds and mainly hang out in cliques once a week.
“I was like, ‘God, you wanted a church that was known for their love. You wanted a group of people where everyone was expressing their gifts. … We’re a body. I’m one member, maybe I’m the mouth. But if the mouth is the only thing that’s working and … I’m trying to drag the rest of the body along, chewing on the carpet …”
The entire article can be read HERE. (Oh. And by the way, be warned. It’s a Christian Post article, which means you will be bombarded with pop-up ads, so have your ad blocker on full alert).
Allow me to deconstruct his comments
– Let’s consider the setting. He is making his remarks to a group of Facebook employees. Now maybe it is a Facebook employee Bible study group, who knows. I find it extremely distasteful that Francis would choose to publicly disparage his former church in the presence of unbelievers, at an organization that has a reputation of hostility toward the Christian faith.
– I happen to know a number of people who attended Cornerstone, and some who still do. It is a gross slander for him to paint his former congregation as a bunch of spiritually lazy bums who only came around to hear him speak. They were all actively involved with ministry. They served one another, as well as the local community. Many people gave their time, energy, and money to further both national and international missions. How he can say they are wasting their spiritual giftedness is a baffling lie.
– He complains they hung out in cliques. You mean like their fellowship groups? You mean with their friends? I’ve heard Christians opine against “cliques” over the years, but what on earth is wrong with a clique?
My wife and I are raising children. The friends we hang out with are other couples raising their children. Both of us were once single. We both hung out with like-minded, single friends. There is nothing shameful or unspiritual about cliques, and Christians should disabuse their wrong thinking about the idea.
Amusingly, the article goes on to report about Francis’s new ministry endeavor he calls, We Are Church. (That doesn’t sound cultic at all!),
There are currently 14 to 15 house churches, he said, and 30 pastors (two pastors per church) — all of whom do it for free. [Heaven forbid a church financially support a pastor full-time – Fred]. Each church is designed to be small so it’s more like family where members can actually get to know one another, love one another and make use of their gifts.
“We’ve got a few hundred people now and it costs nothing,” Chan explained. “And everyone’s growing and everyone’s having to read this book (Bible) for themselves and people actually caring for one another. I don’t even preach. They just meet in their homes, they study, they pray, they care for one another. They’re becoming the church and I’m just loving it and realizing that these 30 guys [are] leading this and the women as well.”
Perhaps I’m a nit-picker, but 14 to 15 small house churches with everyone meeting together to pray, study, and care for each other like a family sounds rather cliquey to me.
– The reasons he gives in his talk for leaving Cornerstone, contradict the vague, squishy reason he gave immediately after he left. See HERE.
– If he wearied of leading a church bloated with spiritual deadbeats, did he not think to bring his concerns before the leadership? Why not address his concerns before the congregation? He could have given a series of sermons that challenged the church to step up their ministry game. Instead, he blames God for calling him away.
– Shepherds generally set the tone for their congregation to follow. If the church was nothing but a massive flophouse for Christian bums, what should that tell us about Francis the pastor?
I will grant that troubled churches exist. A pastor can give his heart and soul to a body of believers who will in the end reject him. I think of Jonathan Edwards’s infamous dismissal from his pulpit by the church he pastored for 20 plus years.
That stated, there is an underlying selfishness revealed in his comments that all pastors will do well to take heed. He complains they were there just to hear him speak. That he had to drag them along “chewing on the carpet.” No one was following God’s commands to love one another. That is a terrifically narcissistic attitude. It is all about the people serving him, not about him serving the people. May we avoid at all cost the Francis Chan model of shepherding.